Stage 1, Day 2: Brunch fatigue, learning curves, and the citizens of Dungeness Spit

Field Report
photo: Team Dark Star by Lynnette Oostmeyer

If your day was anything like ours, the second day of the R2AK 2022 started with a 5 am call with the Coast Guard just to make sure things hadn’t gotten worse. TL;DR: They hadn’t.

Talk to The Man, then peel back the eyelids with cup after cup after cup after cup after cup of as-strong-as-it-can-be/can-it-be-stronger coffee. Likely a bad idea, but if we could have poured coffee into our eyes we would have. No, we didn’t try it. Really. Probably. R2AK. It’s been a day…

Regardless of the coffee-stained pupils, when day dawned on Day Two of R2AK, our bleary-eyed snooze bar went from “Where are they and what do they think they are doing?” to “What are they doing in Victoria?” to “What are they doing on that beach?” to “How much brunch can they possibly have?” Depending on where they were, race teams’ realities seemed vastly different.

In case your internet is oddly relegated to this specific part of our website, what you don’t know until now is that after the epic wind and rescue fest of Day One, weather and waves split R2AK’s class of 2022 into roughly three groups: the teams that made it to Victoria, the teams that went home, and the teams in the balance. On Monday, the first and successful that made it were treated to the warm embrace of Canada that included the stern talking to of the Canadian Coast Guard. To unjustly summarize the maple-leafed epaulets’ words:

  • Don’t be idiots.
  • It’s a big coast and there aren’t that many of us. There’s more Coast Guard in the 40 miles of Stage One than the 700 of Stage Two. Make better choices.
  • Wear a drysuit. Hypothermia is real and we don’t search for bodies. (*sponsor plug* in case you’re wondering: make it a Mustang drysuit; the driest drysuits in the world. Better yet: buy it at Fisheries Supply)

The rest of the fleet? At time of writing, seven teams are still within a stone’s throw of yesterday’s starting line—safe and dry, and likely tiring of Port Townsend’s brunch options. What was prudence on Day One is turning into the first-world problem of brunch fatigue as Day Two turns itself into Day Three’s second-guessing: how is two days of not moving “Racing” to Alaska? Things are looking good even for those who have moved past Port Townsend’s known breakfast options, especially for the 10-ish teams that made the Dungeness Spit their home for the last 36 hours; with more heading that direction to stage themselves for the cross border jump on R2AK’s unprecedented Day Three.

For the 98% of everyone unfamiliar with the place, Dungeness Spit is a five-mile-long, wind-swept anomaly and the best/only refuge teams can get from a westerly wind and sea between Port Townsend and the “Done, thank god” breather of Victoria’s inner harbor. There is a lighthouse with an actual light, a house for the lighthouse keeper, and at least today, a small and active colony of R2AK who all became at least temporary citizens in the Republic of Dungeness.

If brunch was the unifying truth of R2AK’s Port Townsend-based teams, camaraderie was the throughline for the Citizens of Dungeness. After hitting the beach responsibly between the designated and yellow-painted posts that demarcated the landing area inside of the wildlife sanctuary, teams unfolded themselves into the fleeting and lighthouse-based community. In case the last sentence has you at “What the hell is a lighthouse-based community?” you’re not alone. Until we saw it first-person, we’d have said the same thing.

Imagine a picket-fenced 100×300’ patch of the softest and clearly manicured grass in the middle of a driftwood-infested middle of nowhere. It’s like England established a croquet field in the tidal hinterlands of the Salish Sea. No, teams couldn’t pitch tents on the immaculately mowed lawn (bird sanctuary, + England, etc) but they were of course invited to sleep in the museum. While the wind raged in the anchorage, beachable teams slept warm and dry, not to mention an all-access pass to the toolroom to fix the parts that shook loose in the washing machine that was Day One.

In the lee of the lighthouse, the scene on the spit looked a little like a Jetboil-themed beach party, and the stories that emerged confirmed all we had suspected and more about what happened in the first-est part of the race.

Yes, the tide rip was rough, but teams that hugged the beach were able to hard charge to the cold comfort of the US coast for the better part of their last three human-powered hours. To a team, the story of Stage One was, “It was ok, and then…” Even in the relative shelter of Dungeness Spit, human powering against the winds was a hatefest. “It was the hardest paddling I’ve ever done.”

They all got there, but rowing into a stiff headwind for the last couple of hours was frustrating at best “I’d see the same piece of kelp for like four strokes.” …and that’s to mumble through the epic seasickness. At least half of Team Let’s Row Maybe was a technicolor yawn away from calling it quits. “I wanted to die.” She rowed through chunk-blowing discomfort for hours. Hours. Hardcore and horrible rarely exist in so concentric of circles.

Upon arrival, the temporary residents of Dungeness reveled in the shelter and hospitality from members of the Dungeness Lighthouse Society who drove down on the low tide beach to deliver muffins and pizza (we can’t make this stuff up.) In return, racers pitched in to rebuild a couple of walking trails. For the teams ashore, life was a wonderment of a dry sleep and pepperoni. For the not quite beachable, Dungeness offered the best/worst anchorage Stage One had to offer.

Yes, the weather was waning, but Tuesday night offered the bouncy, sleep-killing remnants of the weather system of the days before. For the non-beachable, the Dungeness anchorage offered a cold and bumpy comfort. “This is pretty miserable—one star!” was Team Dark Star’s review. Even the prudent teens onboard Mustang Survival’s Team Rite of Passage anchored at least twice because their anchor dragged and dragged again.

As nautical and civil twilight eek their way into the 0430, bleary-eyed, and Coast Guard sanctioned Strait crossing reality, citizens of greater Dungeness are headlamped and repacking dry bags to decamp and make the final push across. By the ordained go time for crossing, forecasts are calling for something between the decrescendo tail end and nothing. The saltwater and helicopter-rescued hellscape of the last 48 hours has fled the scene, the homestretch to Victoria has a rising barometer, falling winds, and a predicted >1’ seas. This is as calm as the Juan de Fuca gets, and it’s possibly your fault.

Yes, you.

Somewhere in your house is that light switch that you have no idea what it does. While we can’t be certain, it’s just possible that it’s the on/off for R2AK wind. For the love of the deity/atheist figure of your choice, please leave it alone today. Rowboats gotta row.

At time of writing, there are eight hours and 40 flat calm miles between the furthest teams and Victoria’s glory land. Light a candle, say a human-powered prayer they arrive in time, and for god’s sake don’t touch that light switch.



From the Field

Westside Story
By Jim Meyers, Field Reporter

The Proving Ground stage of the 2022 Race to Alaska is behind us. Thankfully. Now the real fun starts.

For most, Thursday morning means pedaling, rowing (or whatever) out of Victoria Harbour (eh), banging a right and heading up the stunning and bear-filled Inside Passage. However, for a few brave, ocean-hardened and crazy-in-a-good-way teams, they’ll be considering a first for the R2AK—a sanctioned west side/outside passage of Vancouver Island.

In ideal conditions the outside passage adds about 30 more miles and a boatload of risk, but it can also put teams on a conveyor belt of wind, giving them a lead over the inside teams measured in days. But maybe not. After chatting with a number of teams over the last few days, here’s my best shot; a quick boiling down of the calculus that they’re all running through in their heads as they ponder which way to turn… Keep reading.